EWN concerned about captive elephant management

EWN is concerned about the management of captive elephants in Nepal. In the absence of a welfare policy and government monitoring, owners can do with the elephants as they please. The number of owned elephants has been steadily rising in the past three decades, as a main resource in the safari industry in and around Chitwan National Park.

Riding on an elephant’s back in reality hardly represents the nature and mysteries of a majestic elephant spirit as ‘jungle resorts’ would have us believe. Instead it is the result of human intervention, in which the young elephants are removed by force from their mothers, subjected rigorous training and worked without government welfare policies or monitoring. EWN has four main concerns:

Our first concern is the captive elephant’s health. Elephant in the wild generally do not suffer serious health problems and diseases. In captivity, even when provided with a good diet, elephants suffer from a wide range of serious and debilitating diseases and illnesses. Salmonellosis, TB and arthritic conditions are common and can cause permanent disability as well as parasitic and infectious diseases. All these have effects of chronic stress on the immune system of these elephant and lead to a high mortality rate.

The government’s domestic elephant policy itself speaks of ‘miserable health condition’ of captive elephants, see  see http://www.dnpwc.gov.np/Elephant%20policy.pdf

Our second concern are the training methods. In traditional punishment and reward training, the elephants are separated at a young age from their mother after which the calves are no longer allowed to suckle or be close to her. During the training, in which fire, tobacco and loud noises are used, the elephants get traumatised which is why they later sometimes kill people, including their own mahout.

WWF Nepal together with overseas experts has introduced humane training methods but the calves trained with positive reinforcement method are still young and will only start work when they are 7-9 years old.
Our third concern is the management of elephants owned by resorts. At the Island Jungle Resort for example, elephants are chained with a shackle that contains spikes on the inside. Blood can be seen on the shackle in the image. This is one example of how domestic elephants suffer from mismanagement. As there are no staff policies or labour unions for elephants they can be overworked, overloaded, abused by their caretakers, deprived of medical care and generally used as money minting object.
Our fourth concern in the absence of a sanctuary or old jumbo’s home. After a lifetime of loyal service what happens to the safari elephant?

It is high time for the industry to do a soul searching exercise and create welfare standards for captive elephants. The government should introduce a welfare policy and implement strict monitoring into the implementation. Tourists should use their consumer power to demand improved conditions for the jumbos.

About Animal Nepal

Animal Nepal is one of Nepal's leading animal welfare organisation.
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